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US West Coast Groundfish Achieves Sustainable Certification

05 June 2014

US - The most diverse, complex fishery ever to enter assessment against the MSC standard anywhere in the world today was awarded MSC certification as a sustainable and well-managed fishery, following an independent, scientific assessment and significant stakeholder involvement.

The US West Coast limited entry groundfish trawl fishery occurs in the waters off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California. This is a predominantly federally managed fishery, but the State of Oregon also has management responsibility for the portion of the fishery within state managed waters. Fishing occurs year round, but is most active in the first six months, with fish landed to designated ports in each of the three states.

The certification of this fishery includes the first MSC certified rockfish species: Chilipepper rockfish (sebastes goodei); Longspine Thornyheads (sebastolobus altivelis); Shortspine thornyheads (sebastolobus alascanus); Splitnose rockfish (sebastes diploproa); Widow rockfish (sebastes entomelas); and, Yellowtail rockfish (sebastes flavidus).

It also includes the first MSC certified skate species: Longnose Skates (raja rhina). The remaining of the 13 certified species include: Arrowtooth flounder (atheresthes stomias), Dover sole (microstomus pacificus); English sole (parophrys vetulus); Ling cod (ophiodon elongatus); Petrale sole (eopsetta jordani); and Sablefish (anoplopoma fimbria).

About 100 vessels participate in the fishery in a given year and the average annual total catch for the five year period ending in 2013 was more than 41 million pounds.

Speaking on behalf of the client group that entered the fisheries into assessment, Brad Pettinger, Director of the Oregon Trawl Commission, said: “MSC certification of this fishery is really a renewal of the social contract that we have with the public, providing assurance that we are fishing sustainably and in a manner that is consistent with the public’s high expectation.”

Dan Averill, MSC fishery outreach manager, said MSC certification is: “A proud day for fishermen in Oregon, Washington and California.” Averill noted that the fishery is managed under a catch share program that utilizes Individual Fishing Quotas (IFQ) and 100 per cent observer coverage to better manage the multi-species fishery and said, “MSC certification confirms the rigorous management of the fishery and assures a steady and stable supply of seafood long into the future.” Under the catch share program, all vessels fishing are required to have a federal license and are 100 per cent accountable for their catch, which ensures that fish stocks are not overfished.

Environmental Defense Fund worked with fishermen, fishery managers and federal officials over a seven-year period to develop the catch share program. Shems Jud, EDF’s Oceans Program Pacific Regional Director, said: “All credit goes to the trawl fishermen. In adapting to catch shares they dramatically reduced their bycatch and established the foundation for MSC certification. This announcement reinforces what a growing number of US fishermen have experienced firsthand – that a system of full accountability creates the potential for a fishery to succeed both economically and environmentally.”

During the assessment, the team noted that there is an ongoing and systematic approach to reducing bycatch, and a September, 2013 West Coast groundfish IFQ progress report from 2012 by NOAA confirmed that there has been a substantial reduction in bycatch as a result of the implementation of catch shares. This is a management tool in the US Magnuson Stevens Act, whereby the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) is divided into shares controlled by fishermen that results in a more efficient and flexible harvest. The Pacific Fishery Management Council manages the fishery under the auspices of The National Marine Fisheries Service and the US Secretary of Commerce.

Products from the West Coast groundfish complex are supplied fresh and frozen to markets along the US west coast and to markets throughout the world, with Japan being the largest export market, followed by China and Canada.

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